Monthly Archives: January 2011

Six Vases Six Ways #3

Note: Yes, this series is being written slowly. I see that this little parenthesis was opened last July and I’m still only halfway through! But I haven’t forgotten about it, and so I persevere:

Six Vases Six Ways #3: Bulbs

Inspiration for this post came thanks to the chickens. I went to check up on them as they roamed around the yard (I believe this makes them free-range chickens) and found them all scratching through the leaves beyond the compost pile on the side of the house. And all around them, bulbs were popping up! This is the first January we’ve lived in this house, and I certainly did not plant these bulbs, and if it weren’t for the chickens I’m sure it would have been awhile till I braved the mud and visited the side-yard. So I grabbed a shovel and dug around the roots to remove a large cluster of bulbs.

A spray with the hose rinsed away all the dirt and rocks from the roots and the roots were teased apart to separate out some of the bulbs. These were put into small vases that had marbles at the bottom and water poured to just below the top of the marbles. The large cluster of bulbs went into the big vase, right on top of the pebbles it held when I used it as a candle holder.

Although the stems were all bent sadly over when they went into the vase, by the next day, with some water and sunlight, they had all perked right back up. The buds look ready to open anytime, and then we’ll see whats inside…



On my Sister’s blog yesterday, she posted the recipe to what she claims is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. The name does the cookie justice: “Big, Best, Fat, Chewy, Chocolate Chip Cookies.” And that they are.

These cookies are impressive. They’re big, which makes it feel like they came from a bakery. And they’re thick, unlike the small, flat cookies that tend to characterize home-made. And they’re definitely delicious. Sister’s recipe showed me that a home cook could bake up a huge, looks-like-it-came-from-a-bakery cookie but with even better texture and flavor, cookie. When I walk in the door and my nose tells me that sister has been baking, and I see B.B.F.C.C.C Cookies cooling on the counter, if I may quote Martha, “its a good thing.”

But as for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, I must humbly disagree. In my opinion, the world’s best chocolate chip cookie recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated and is posted below. These cookies are equal in size and texture, but even better in flavor.

We have long discussed the merits of our respective recipes, and sampled many, many, cookies (in order to come to an informed opinion, of course) but there must be an end. There cannot be two recipes that are best, and for the good of the general public who must know the truth about the best cookie recipe, I think its time that a winner was declared.  So, Sister, I challenge you to a bake off. We can gather an unbiased panel (that means our hubbys don’t count!) to do a blind tasting of the two cookies. Loser makes a double batch of the winning recipe, frozen into neat dough balls ready for my freezer. I mean the winner’s freezer.

What do you say – do you accept?

UPDATE: The challenge has been accepted!


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Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 16 cookies.   Published May 1, 2009.   From Cook’s Illustrated.

Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored. For our winning brand of chocolate chips, see related tasting.

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (see note)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (see note)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)


  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
  2. 2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
  3. 3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
  4. 4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
  5. 5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Recipe Testing

Creating a New Classic Here’s how we improved on the Toll House classic to create an even better cookie.

TOLL HOUSE RECIPE: Equal Amounts Brown and White Sugar
A 1-1 ratio of brown to white sugar creates a cookie that’s neither crisp nor chewy. 

OUR RECIPE: More Brown Sugar
Using more brown sugar than white makes for a chewier cookie. 

TOLL HOUSE RECIPE: Creamed Solid Butter
Creaming butter creates a cakier texture in cookies. 

OUR RECIPE: Browned, Melted Butter
Melting butter contributes to chewiness; browning it enhances flavor. 

Whole eggs contribute to a drier texture. 

OUR RECIPE: 1 Whole Egg, 1 Yolk
Eliminating one egg white also boosts chewiness. 


Baking the dough immediately after mixing doesn’t allow the sugar to dissolve as fully as possible. 

OUR RECIPE: Whisk and Wait
Whisking sugar into the liquid ingredients and then waiting 10 minutes allows more of it to dissolve, setting up better flavor and texture. 

The smaller the cookie, the more uniform its texture. 

OUR RECIPE: More Dough
Three tablespoons of dough per cookie increases its crisp-chewy contrast. 


Berkeley Bowl

This gallery contains 2 photos.

We went out looking for rennet last weekend, a key ingredient in a future cheese-making endeavor, which brought us to a favorite local grocery store: Berkeley Bowl (thanks again Bruce for introducing us!). Although they have a huge cheese section, … Continue reading

Ginger Syrup, Sugar, Candy.


This is a project that’s a three-for-one: you can make a bowlful of candied ginger, and for no additional effort or ingredient, you will also end up with a few jars full of delicious ginger syrup, and even some ginger sugar! Hows that for a return on investment! And lest you think – gee, isn’t that a lot of ginger to have in the house?”, check the idea list at the bottom of the page to see some of the delicious ways to use this stuff. You may go through it much faster than you thought you would.

What you’ll need:

  • One pound of ginger
  • 4 cups sugar (you’ll use three cups and then one cup, so keep them separate)
  • 3 cups water

Use the edge of a spoon, or the back of a knife to scrape the skin off the ginger. Sometimes its easiest to break the knobs and peel them individually, rather than trying to get into all the nooks and crannies. Slice into 1/8 inch pieces. Put the pieces of ginger into a pot of 3 cups of sugar, 3 cups of water. Simmer, covered, on med-low until the ginger is tender. Check ginger at 1/2 hour, if its not tender, continue to cook uncovered, checking every 15 minutes.

When the ginger is tender, drain it through a sieve into a bowl. What’s drained off is your ginger syrup. Put it into a jar and refrigerate when cool.

Spread the drained ginger on a plate – a clean spatter guard works great – and put in an oven that is slightly warm. Use the “proof” setting if you have one. When the ginger pieces are dry enough (trying time will depend on the temperature and humidity of the air) that the once shiny ginger looks dull and it only feels damp when you touch them, put them into a jar with the remaining cup of sugar. Cap and shake until the ginger is evenly coated with sugar. Empty the jar back out onto the plate or spatter guard and return to the oven till completely dry.

I like to store the candied ginger in the freezer because it prevents the candy from weeping and soaking up its sugar coating. Reserve any sugar that doesn’t stick to the ginger, because that’s now ginger sugar, and store in an airtight container in the pantry.

And then, what to with what you just made:

What to do with Ginger Syrup:

  • Add a few tablespoons to a glass of carbonated water for delicious ginger ale
  • Use as the sweet component in salad dressing (what about a spinach, pear, and goat cheese salad with a ginger vinaigrette?)
  • Stir into boiling water with a squeeze of lemon (and a little honey if the ginger syrup isn’t sweet enough for your taste) for a throat soother
  • Drizzle onto ice cream or other desserts
  • Mix some into iced tea, lemonade or limeade
  • Put on pancakes (mmm… blueberry pancakes with ginger syrup.)

What to do with Candied Ginger:

  • Mince and add to gingersnaps or other cookies
  • Blend up with butter and oatmeal as part of use on apple crisp topping
  • Add chopped ginger pieces to the top of coffee cake
  • Eat for a spicy sweet treat!
  • Add, with orange or lemon zest, to scones
  • Use  as a garnish in ginger-lemonade
  • Sprinkle pieces on cake for sparkly decoration
  • Add to granola along with dried peaches and vanilla (that’s the reason I made this particular batch of ginger)
  • Sprinkle on yogurt, along with honey, fresh fruit, and a squeeze of lemon
  • Add to stir fries in Asian cooking
  • Chop up and mix into fruit salad
  • Use in a marinade

And Lastly, What to do with Ginger Sugar

Note – this recipe will result in some, but not tons of ginger sugar. If you want to make more, whir a cup of sugar and a piece of candied ginger in a food processor. Store in a jar for a few days to really let the flavors “meld and marry,” as my Dad would say.

  • Roll balls of cookie dough around in it before baking
  • Put in a bowl for fancy sugar at a tea party
  • Toss with fruit when making pie or crisp
  • Sprinkle on walnuts when making candied nuts
  • Make caramel sauce that has a hint of ginger
  • Rim your iced tea glasses
  • Make cinnamon toast
  • Sprinkle on a baked apple before you put it into the oven
  • Substitute for plain sugar in baking


Do you have lots of pretty hooks and knobs lying sadly around in your junk drawer? Well I finally put some of them into action, without putting a bunch of holes in the walls.

I grabbed a board from the garage, gave it a coat of off-white acrylic paint, and let it dry. Then I gave it a coat of dark blue paint, and let that dry. Finally it got a third layer of light blue paint which dried just a little bit. Using the pointy end of the paintbrush to lightly scratch through the tacky paint, I drew a squiggly vine around the edge of the board. The dark blue paint showed right through wherever the brush handle touched. It was so fun to do some “reverse drawing” that I kept going and drew some wood-grain down the middle.

Once this was all dried, I screwed the hooks into the board, and Hubbs kindly hung it on the kitchen wall. The aprons went on it right away, and both my apron drawer and my junk drawer are happier for it.



Canning for Summer

Our lemon tree in the front yard has been glaring at me for the past few weeks. Each time I pull into the driveway I see it there, covered in lemons: ripening, golden, meyer lemons, that are slowly starting to drop to the ground and rot. I’m so happy to have an abundantly producing lemon tree and can’t bear to lose even a few of them! But I certainly didn’t want to pick them until I had time to do something with them (i.e. a way to can or preserve them). And worse than fruit rotting beneath the tree is fruit rotting in a basket on the kitchen counter.

But the head scratching decision has been what to make. Lemon curd is always great choice, but because of the butter and eggs, I’m not comfortable leaving cans on the shelf, and there’s only so much room in the refrigerator for little jars of lemon curd. Lemon jelly sounds delicious, but I think I would prefer strawberry or plum on my toast. I’d love to preserve just the juice, but when I need lemon juice I don’t usually need an entire can’s worth at one time.

And then, the answer came: Lemonade concentrate! My favorite way to enjoy the lemons is to make lemonade, and what a treat in the summer to have lemonade ready to go!

I followed a recipe for canned lemonade concentrate, but next time I think I’ll try my own recipe with simple syrup and lemon juice. The recipe I used called for lemon zest, which I used against my better judgment. Zest just makes it bitter, and who wants bitter lemonade? If this lemonade concentrate turns out to be too “zesty”, I may end up mixing it with carbonated water and make lemon soda this summer. But there’s more lemons on the tree, anyways, so I might just have to make some more.

Caramelized Shallots? Yes!

Until recently, I kind of pretended that the shallot didn’t exist. If I saw it on a recipe, I’d chop some onions up small (since that’s the main difference between onions and shallots, right? They’re smaller?) and keep going. I didn’t know what they were, and wasn’t particularly interested in learning. And then, a dear friend brought a bag of them home from the produce market, so I started hunting for recipes.

I learned thanks to that there is a difference between onions and shallots (beside their size): they are a whole different species, actually. They have a surprising amount of protein, Vitamin C and potassium, as well as antioxidants. To get the most health benefits, you’re supposed to eat them raw. But I would guess that’s also the best way to lose friends and avoid kisses. Here’s where my ears started to perk: shallots are sweeter and more flavorful than onions, which means they carmelize faster. Carmelized, now that starts to sound interesting.

Turning to smitten kitchen, I found this recipe for caramelized shallots that she promised would change our lives. And it did. (well, I plan to buy shallots now; that’s a change) The recipe is very simple and probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. They were sliced and tossed into a salad, and later used as a side for chicken. My tweak to her recipe was using balsamic instead of wine vinegar, which we didn’t have on hand.

Do beware, as she warns in her recipe, of the caramelized puddle of salty-sweet-toasted-butter at the bottom of the pan. Its dangerous stuff, for sure.